01 October 2009

Public Option - Where Are We Today?

Earlier this week a skirmish in the battle for a "Public Option", as a part of health care reform was lost. This does not mean that the battle is lost or that the war is over. Far from it.

Numerous senators took to the floor during a long debate on the amendments to add the "Public Option" to the Baucus bill in the Senate Finance Committee. The pro arguments were strong and made vigorous moral and intellectual cases for the "Public Option".

The Finance Committee then voted on two public health insurance option amendments offered by Senators Rockefeller and Schumer.

In the end, 10 out of 13 Democrats on the committee - John Rockefeller (WV), Jeff Bingaman (NM),
John Kerry (MA), Ron Wyden (OR), Charles Schumer (NY), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Maria Cantwell (WA), Bill Nelson (FL), Robert Menendez (NJ), and Tom Carper (DE) - voted for a public health insurance option.

Three "Blue Dog" Democrats - Max Baucus (MT), Kent Conrad (ND), and Blanche Lincoln (AR) - sided with the Republicans to defeat these amendments. The final roll call was 10-13.

In the most conservative committee in the Senate, which is itself the most conservative house of Congress, a public health insurance option got the support of an overwhelming majority of the governing party. And there were some surprises - we picked up more votes than we had originally expected.

So what's next?

A public health insurance option has been passed by four out of five committees in Congress dealing with health care, and received a huge amount of support in the Senate Finance Committee. The next time the public health insurance option will come up for consideration is when Majority Leader Harry Reid merges the Finance bill with the HELP bill.

So, what happened earlier was no more than a preliminary fire-fight. Clearly, the idea has weight - even self-described moderates such as Bill Nelson and Tom Carper voted for it. As we move to the floor and into conference, with Schumer, Rockefeller, and other champions pledging support and whipping their colleagues, those numbers can and will continue to grow.

There are hundreds of organizers and thousands of supporters around the country, and we have the American people on our side. As Senator Schumer says, "a public health insurance option will be in the bill President Obama signs into law."

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